Cyberbullying at work : exploring understandings and experiences : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Human Resource Management at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Despite growing evidence that workplace cyberbullying exerts a significant toll on employees
and organisations, conceptualisation issues linger, impeding efforts toward prevention and
intervention. Indeed, researchers continue to frame cyberbullying as an electronic extension of
traditional bullying – overlooking the intricacies and potentially more damaging nature of this
phenomenon, due to various cyber-specific features – or disregard conceptualisation altogether.
Therefore, the main aim of this research was to explore how workplace cyberbullying is
understood and experienced in New Zealand, with a focus on nursing.
A three-study qualitative, interview-based research design was employed, with findings from
each stage informing the subsequent research progress. Study one explored subject matter
experts’ perspectives on workplace cyberbullying. In addition to suggesting a differentiation of
cyberbullying from traditional bullying as a construct, findings also revealed professional-based
distinctions around approaches to measurement and management, emphasising the subjectivity
and contextual nature of cyberbullying. In line with these findings, studies two and three
adopted a context-specific approach in exploring nurses’ understandings and experiences of
workplace cyberbullying, respectively. The focus on nursing was intended to address a
substantial knowledge gap: although this profession experiences higher-than-average rates of
traditional bullying, to date, there had been no efforts to investigate how workplace
cyberbullying manifested and was experienced within this group.
Findings from study two suggested that although academics and nurses generally
conceptualised workplace cyberbullying as being a distinct phenomenon, nurses tended to
emphasise target perceptions of victimisation over features such as repetition and intent. Based
on this understanding, a purpose-specific definition was formulated for study three to explore
nurse experiences of workplace cyberbullying. Accordingly, it emerged that not only did most
targets experience co-occurring forms of bullying, but in some cases, cyberbullying was
perceived as more distressing with a potentially wider scope of harm. Further, findings from
study three uncovered the risk of nurses experiencing cyberbullying from external sources such
as students, patients, and patient relatives. Unfortunately, several work-related and industryspecific
factors frequently presented barriers to reporting and successful resolution. Beyond
these contributions to our knowledge on workplace cyberbullying, a multi-factor socioecological
model is also posited as a framework guiding future research, as well as prevention
and intervention efforts.